Are You Ready to be a Thought Leader?

Communicating her business enthusiasm

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

At the Invent Your Future Silicon Valley Conference, I had the honor of moderating a breakout session titled “Are You Ready to be a Thought Leader?” with Denise Brosseau. Her message can be summed up by the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote above – blaze a trail.

Many who think about the question titling the breakout session (and Denise’s book) wonder what IS a thought leader? And should I become one? The session focused on defining what a thought leader is in our own words (it was a very interactive discussion).

Blazing a trail sounds daunting. But being a thought leader isn’t blazing a trail in a vacuum, it is seeing a need for change in your industry, company, department, or community and deciding to do something about it. It is about becoming an agent for change.

No one starts out as a thought leader. Being a thought leader is about finding your passion concerning something that needs to be changed, putting steps into action to change it, and building your credibility to help drive that change. You start out as an ordinary businessperson and work to make changes. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Start by asking yourself a grand question, What if…? What if there were more women engineers? What if this process were more efficient? What if a customer could get everything resolved with one call to customer service? What if there were more women in my department? What if women earned equal pay to men, instead of the 77 cents they earn today? What if…? Then follow that with another question. What would that world look like? What would it be like? Try to imagine this future in detail.

Blazing a trail takes time and energy. There will be naysayers to the changes you are proposing or to the ideas you are espousing as a thought leader. Listen to these people carefully, those are the objections you need to overcome and the education you need to focus on. Inertia may also be preventing changes – “this is the way we have always done it.” You need to have the determination and passion and vision to see your idea and change through to fruition.

Denise gave an example of how she became an accidental thought leader where she was being called by the press for quotes and comments. In 1993, Denise founded a group called Forum for Women Entrepreneurs (FWE), which was founded on one statistic, namely that less than 1% of VC money was going to women owned companies. Less than 1%. Denise found her passion and could envision a different world. What if 50% of VC money was going to women owned companies. What would that be like?

Through her work with FWE, the National Women’s Business Council approached Denise to help create a venture conference specifically for women owned companies. That conference became Springboard Enterprises, which focuses on women presenting their companies for funding. Denise talked, with great pride, about some of these companies that ended up going public, like iRobot, Zip cars, Constant Contact, and Invisalign.

What is the percentage of VC money going to women owned companies now, some 20 years later? It is 4-9%. While it isn’t 50%, that’s progress – from the less than 1% of VC money going to women owned companies to 4-9% to taking companies public.

So how do you become a thought leader and drive change? Envision the future that you wish to happen within your industry, organization, or community and then focus on building the relationships to make this change happen. Finally work with those relationships to execute on your vision.

Do you have the courage to be a thought leader? To go from being a virtually unknown person to testifying in front of congress to being honored by the White House as a Champion for Change (as were Denise and one of the subjects of her book, Van Ton Quinlivan)?

I won’t give away all the secrets in here book here, but I encourage you to investigate Denise’s website and company, Thought Leadership Lab, where you will find tons of information and resources on becoming a thought leader. If you are passionate about a particular change and are serious about becoming a thought leader, you will definitely want to read her book and follow her advice to become a thought leader and to increase your influence, impact, and success!

Sonya SiglerAbout the author: Sonya Sigler is an executive, consulting in operations, legal, and business development with start-ups and other high-growth companies. She is a staunch advocate for women in technology and is focused on sharing practical advice on how to achieve your goals. You can find her online at, view her LinkedIn profile, or follow her on Twitter @sonyasigler.

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